Pro-Birkett Ad Angers African-American Officials

by Jeff Fleischer

(Medill News Service, October 10, 2002)


A television ad supporting Republican Joe Birkett’s campaign for Illinois attorney general came under fire Thursday from a group of African-American state officials who say the ad’s sponsor endorses racial profiling.

“It is deeply disturbing that Joe Birkett has aligned himself with an organization that speaks out in favor of a practice that violates civil rights by unfairly targeting minorities,” state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) said in a statement.

The Law Enforcement Alliance of America began running the ad in question late last week. While the commercial focuses on the track record of Birkett’s opponent, Democrat Lisa Madigan, critics say the group, based in suburban Washington, and its executive director, James Fotis, support profiling practices.

“That’s one of the reasons that we’re certainly concerned,” said state Rep. Arthur Turner (D-Chicago), a deputy majority leader for the House. “We’re calling on Joe Birkett to denounce this organization.”

Steve Binder, Birkett’s press secretary, said the alliance ran the ad on its own, and the Birkett campaign did not see it until after it aired. Binder said, “everything about Lisa Madigan in the ad is accurate,” and that Birkett does not share all of the alliance’s views.

“Joe Birkett does not support — he absolutely abhors — racial profiling,” Binder said. “He enjoys widespread support from the African-American community throughout the state.

“That doesn’t sit well with Lisa Madigan and her campaign. They’ll stoop to any level to drive a wedge into that.”

Repeated calls to the alliance’s offices were not returned Thursday. Davis cited Fotis’ past public statements as evidence of his views.

For example, Fotis told Fox News in June 2001, “How can 13 percent of the population occupy 40 percent of the jail cells? It sounds devastating, but the fact is, they’re committing the crimes. The minority community are committing many more crimes than the white community.”

Turner said members of the state’s Legislative Minority Caucus will continue to monitor candidates’ ties.

“We’re trying to move away from the negative campaigning and see where these candidates stand on specific agendas that would affect the community, and certainly the minority community, in this state,” he said.

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